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‘So damn impressive’: Celebrities stand with Naomi Osaka after French Open exit

A woman in a visor lifting a tennis ball into the air.
Naomi Osaka serves the ball during a match at the 2021 French Open tennis tournament in Paris.
(Christophe Ena / Associated Press)

Athletes, actors and other prominent figures have come out swinging on behalf of Naomi Osaka after the Japanese tennis champion withdrew from the French Open to prioritize her mental health.

Among the many who voiced their support for Osaka over the holiday weekend were basketball stars Steph Curry and Lisa Leslie, as well as tennis greats Billie Jean King, Venus Williams and Serena Williams, who said she wished she could give her frequent opponent “a hug” amid the furor surrounding her actions.

On Monday, Osaka announced her departure from the Grand Slam tournament after winning her first-round match — and incurring a $15,000 fine for opting out of a subsequent news conference. The ace athlete, who lives in Los Angeles, had previously stated that she would not participate in press events during the competition, citing a disregard for players’ mental well-being.

“I have suffered long bouts of depression since the U.S. Open in 2018 and I have had a really hard time coping with that,” Osaka said Monday in a statement on social media.

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“I am not a natural public speaker and get huge waves of anxiety before I speak to the world’s media. I get really nervous and find it stressful to always try to engage and give you the best answers I can. So here in Paris I was already feeling vulnerable and anxious so I thought it was better to exercise self-care and skip the press conferences.”

Naomi Osaka’s decision to not participate in news conferences at the French Open is drawing reactions from Billie Jean King, Rafael Nadal and others.

While speaking with reporters in Paris after triumphing in her own first-round match, Serena Williams defended Osaka’s decision, acknowledging that players “have different personalities, and people are different.”

“I feel for Naomi,” she said. “I know what it’s like. I’ve been in those positions. ... Not everyone is the same. I’m thick. Other people are thin. You just have to let her handle it the way she wants to, in the best way she thinks she can, and that’s the only thing I can say. I think she’s doing the best that she can.”

“It’s incredibly brave that Naomi Osaka has revealed her truth about her struggle with depression,” another tennis icon, King, tweeted. “Right now, the important thing is that we give her the space and time she needs. We wish her well.”

On Instagram, Serena Williams’ sister and fellow tennis phenom, Venus Williams, encouraged Osaka to “take care” of herself and looked forward to seeing her “back winning soon.” Other sports luminaries who wished Osaka well in the comment section of her latest Instagram post were Coco Gauff, Sloane Stephens, Kyrie Irving and Usain Bolt.

Naomi Osaka withdraws from the French Open, saying on Twitter it’s “the best thing for the tournament, the other players and my well-being.”

The sports community also rallied behind Osaka on Twitter, where Golden State Warriors point guard Curry showed “major respect” for the 23-year-old athlete’s courage to speak up for herself.

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“You shouldnt ever have to make a decison like this-but so damn impressive taking the high road when the powers that be dont protect their own,” he tweeted.

“It’s so sad that we are in a time that when a young person tells you they need help or a break, people respond with anger and lack of support!” former Los Angeles Sparks center Leslie wrote. “I stand with you @naomiosaka Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.”

A number of Hollywood stars stood with Osaka on social media as well. Among her celebrity admirers were Sanaa Lathan, Patton Oswalt, Padma Lakshmi, Olivia Munn, Roxane Gay, Gene Simmons, Ava DuVernay and Jada Pinkett Smith, who remarked that Osaka’s withdrawal is “your loss French Open.”

Naomi Osaka has been fined $15,000 by the French Open tournament referee for skipping the post-match news conference after her first-round victory.

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“Shouldn’t one’s athletic ability be the focus and what’s most important?” tweeted “Red Table Talk” host Smith. "@naomiosaka was clearly ready to play & had enough awareness of self to recognize her mental health challenges around the media. Mental health should be one’s first consideration. I’m proud of her.”

“Prioritizing Mental health can be life saving,” actor Lathan wrote. “This is not a game. Proud of her for exercising this amount of self care even in the face of huge opposition.”

In response to her announcement, French Tennis Federation President Gilles Morreton said in a statement that the organization is “sorry and sad” for Osaka and touted its commitment “to all athletes’ well-being and to continually improving every aspect of players’ experience in our Tournament.”

“The outcome of Naomi withdrawing from Roland-Garros is unfortunate,” Morreton said. “We wish her the best and the quickest possible recovery, and we look forward to having Naomi at our Tournament next year.”


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